As more and more of our lives move online, being disconnected becomes a barrier of participation. The groups of people that for whatever reason do not have access to digital tools will be left outside of society deprived from basic services like banking, education, etc. This we name the digital divide – an increasingly critical gap between those empowered by technology and those who are losing their access as the physical world is ending.
The digital divide becomes increasingly complex and unequal, as we unfold it. Digital inequality is evident between communities living in urban areas and those living in rural settlements; between socioeconomic groups of high-income earners and low-income; between less economically developed countries and more economically developed countries; between the educated population and uneducated; between genders and across generations. As such, the divide amplifies existing societal inequalities.
For instance, men in low-income countries are 90% more likely to own a mobile phone than women and an estimated 184 million women lack access to mobile connectivity. The high-income earners are 20X more likely to access the internet than low-income earners, and 10X more likely to own computers and high-speed internet. Less economically developed countries lack the necessary technology and infrastructure to access high-speed internet - and in-country geographical restrictions on access in rural areas widen the gap even further. Additionally, there is the sheer motivation and interest in the digital, where groups that find technology too complicated to comprehend get left out. A lack of digital literacy, intensified by a lack of physical access especially in developing countries widens the gap between the information-rich – and information poor.
The digital divide has contributed to the segregation of individuals in society including ethnicity, age, race, and gender. Technology creates new alignments among individuals with access to the internet and those without access. Those with limited access continue to lag hindering their growth and development.
For most of the developed world, analogue solutions were in use long before the digitisation. In the transition to digital, the services and communication for those who lacked access or skills were for most parts kept in place. For many developing countries digital solutions have been an opportunity to introduce a new infrastructure for the first time or at least replace a dysfunctional analogue system. This situation is further deepening the divide in the developing world.
Connecting everything: An amplification of inequality
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Amount of the global population using the Internet
We are more connected than ever. With one click, we can instantly reach the internet’s 4.54B users, corresponding to 59% of the global population. That is massive. One click, and we can reach a fellow co-creator, a potential customer, or a billionaire with investment capital. The digital revolution is not stopping soon. 5G networks are being rolled out globally, providing for much higher speed and lower latency. In countries such as the UK, Finland, and China research for 6G has already begun with e.g. China expecting to roll out 6G services commercially by 2030. 6G could reportedly offer speeds over 10 times faster than 5G and bring "revolutionary changes" to wired and wireless network structures. Meanwhile, breakthroughs like space-based internet will enable internet access in the most remote places in the world – enabling even more people to join the age of digital.
It is not just a phenomenon for the developed parts of the world. The cost of access is exponentially declining and thanks to the smartphone the hardware barriers are low. Online services are all made available in a business model built on the fact that marginal costs of services are close to zero.
And as we are ramping up access to the digital realm more and more parts of our lives move online. All education today has an online component, during the pandemic online became the only component. Most financial institutions no longer have branches, online is the only way to be banked. Online ID is fast becoming the only ID and your access to public services or democratic rights. Last but not least, knowledge about and access to the job market is online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this development. Irrespective of how long the social distancing is maintained, we have already achieved a massive level-up of our collective digital skills. Across society, people have gotten a crash course in how to run digital meetings, how to shop groceries online, how to collaborate in real-time online – and those lessons will remain after we beat COVID-19. Several companies have already decided to make remote work a permanent option for employees.
Who are you without your phone? The digital tools are extending human capabilities. We can connect, work and communicate freely outside of our physical realm, our cognitive performance is enhanced by anything from Google to Wikipedia, and we seamlessly access services that prior either took mental capacity (remembering facts, navigating) or were inaccessible (buying and selling stocks, learn a new language etc.). What it means to be human is changing.
Digitising everything: Accelerating the human being
Declining costs and increasing performance of technology
ICT prices by generation of ICT regulation
The democratisation of technology
Source: ICT price trends 2020
Mobile coverage by type of network
of people in developing countries not using the internet are not using it due to lacking digital skills. In more advanced countries this number lies at 60%.
Source: ITU Academy, Digital Skills Insights 2020
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR has coined the past decade as “Decade of Displacement” - as the number of displaced people has risen globally. Several major crises have forced people to leave their homes and in some cases their countries. Some are displaced multiple times.
At the end of 2020, there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people around the world according to a new report by UNHCR. Out of them, nearly 26.4 million were refugees and 48 million were internally displaced meaning that they had to leave their homes and relocate within the same country. These people had to leave their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or event seriously disturbing public order.
Number of displaced people in the world has been on the rise the past decade
Source: UNHCR Data Finder - Forcibly displaced by population type 2015-2020
Decade of displacement: Displacement in the world
of forcibly displaced originated from just five countries namely Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan and Venezuela.
of forcibly displaced were hosted in neighbouring countries. Top hosting countries at the end of 2020 included: Turkey (3.7M), Colombia (1.7M), Pakistan (1.4M), Uganda (1.4M) and Germany (1.2M).
of the world’s population is displaced. 32% of forcibly displaced people are under the age of 18 years old.
forcibly displaced were able to return to their home countries in 2020 which is a continued decrease from the previous year - a downward trend from the previous two years.
Below, you will find a number of selected macrotrends that are believed to have a broad impact on the digital divide and forced displacement over the next decade. Read from top to bottom, or navigate using the menu to the left. Remember to note down your thoughts - high and low!
Global attention to sustainability has developed rapidly during the last couple of years. Public awareness is on a new rise, with the mobilisation of people such as Fridays for Future/School strike for Climate as a strong example of this new consciousness - especially among the young. Since Greta Thunberg started her protests outside of Sweden’s parliament on August 20, 2018, climate change and sustainability have been at the centre of attention for both media, industries and political campaigns. Below, you find how this is demonstrated in different parts of society (navigate using the arrows or click to read in a new window).
Values of the future: Attention to sustainability on the rise, as we
enter the Decade of the Climate
For the energy sector, this attention to sustainability has already proven to be revolutionary, considering the energy sector is the main source sector for greenhouse gas emissions globally - in the EU the numbers are more than 80%. Combined with the current volatility of the global oil markets, this movement will result in new consumer demands, financial flows and regulatory initiatives.
For the Ørsted Wind Farm division, these movements from across society entail not only a global mandate for truly acting on sustainability, embodying it into all that you do. Perhaps even do like Microsoft and the likes, by going beyond?
Accelerated value shifts in the wake of COVID-19:
Resilience, security and readiness on the rise
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, humanity was beginning to wake up to the fact that we were (and are) facing an accelerating ecological, humanitarian and economical crisis brought on by climate change. The sudden shock delivered by the pandemic might serve as the catalyst that accelerates a number of value shifts already underway and seed a number of new ones. The crisis is still not over and we are all participating in negotiating the narrative around the virus and its consequences. While it is too early to tell exactly what we will learn from the crisis, there are emerging trends that signify changing values and priorities.
Although COVID-19 is currently being battled by vaccines (at least in our western world), some of the new routines and habits acquired during the pandemic might stick around. Due to the risk of new outbreaks, social distancing will likely become semi-permanent over the next couple of years, changing everything from how we work to how we interact with friends and family. Irrespective of how long the social distancing is maintained, we have already achieved a massive level-up of our collective digital skills. Across society, people have gotten a crash course in how to run digital meetings, how to shop groceries online, how to collaborate in real-time online – and those lessons will remain after we beat COVID-19. Several companies have already decided to make remote work a permanent option for employees.
From just-in-time to just-in-case – the last 1,5 years has resulted in a new focus on resilience. We’ve been through a year of broken supply chains and pictures such as the ones from the British-French border imprinted in our memory. In response to the crisis industrial companies have - at least temporarily - shifted priorities from making the supply chain as cheap as possible to making it as secure as possible. As a consequence, certain actions that were considered signs of inefficiency, e.g. stockpiling, suddenly becomes accepted strategic choices. The increased focus might also reinforce the trend towards favouring local production and boost the adoption of technologies such as robots and 3D printers. For many companies, radical uncertainty might be the context for future strategy-making with resilience, productivity, risk management etc being central themes.
From a public perspective, a slew of new regulations might be created to ensure security and resilience of the collective, not just in the face of future pandemics, but across areas such as cybersecurity, food security, infrastructure security etc. What if everything from how animals are treated in agriculture to how data is stored in companies will be evaluated on the new metrics around safety and resilience?
Furthermore, the power of our collective has been re-discovered. During the crisis, people have in general exhibited a large degree of trust in our scientists and our governments. We have accepted and adhered to guidelines and sacrificed personal convenience for the well-being of the collective. The virus has reminded us that we are part of a large complex organism called society - and that we depend on each other to survive.
We have re-discovered that even though our society is large and complex, we can act fast and coordinated when needed. In a matter of days we have made dramatic changes to how we work, shop and live in order to beat the virus. Globally millions have been confined to their homes, planes have stopped flying and global trade has grinded to a halt. Could the rediscovered power of radical action making result in similar measurements taken against other major challenges that mankind faces, such as the climate emergency and rising inequality? As they say - maybe COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal of the larger crisis to come?
How can the energy sector and you in the Ørsted Wind Farm division contribute to making society more resilient? Are you yourself geared to respond to future crises to come?
Losing access: The digital divide and forced displacement
Forcibly displaced are often already under-serviced when it comes to digital tools and the internet. Thus, for them losing digital access is almost as devastating as losing food and shelter. Syrian refugees in Jordan were noted to calculate the costs of Wi-Fi into their rent because they considered it so essential to their daily lives. Similarly, do forcibly displaced in Tanzania sell up to 1/3 of their monthly food ration to buy data and minutes for their phones. Others forego healthcare and clothing because communication is more important. Clearly, we are well past the time when internet access was considered a luxury. The rise of digital identification systems is a current example of how digital access becomes a prerequisite to enjoy core rights of documentation - rights that a majority of forcibly displaced can not tap into due to being offline.
In the context of forced displacement, the digital divide is often intensified. But as digital holds great opportunities for forcibly displaced, working to secure digital access should be the first priority. Then, digital can be a gateway - to access social networks, education, finances; basic needs that are often beyond reach for forcibly displaced. For those who do not have the skills or the resources to gain digital access, the digital divide is fast becoming a serious denominator for thriving - one that should be mitigated. While working with and for people affected by displacement, taking a rights-based approach will be crucial to ensure that digital promotes and protects the human rights of the most vulnerable ones. In the five futures, we will dive deeper into the aspects of this divide and what it means.